Mercer Island High School Bands Welcomed in Australia
by Jennifer McLellan, Tour Manager, Mercer Island High School Bands
We loved our trip to Australia!
Our recent adventure ‘down under’ checked all the boxes one could ever wish for in a student music group traveling experience. We performed in competitive environments as well as in fun entertainment venues. We worked with world-class directors, had exchanges with two Australian bands and immersed ourselves in Australian culture.
We arrived in Sydney and after some quick sightseeing were able to clinic and perform with John Lynch of the Sydney Conservatorium (the ‘Juilliard of the Southern Hemisphere’). It was so remarkable to be in a performance space with such brilliant acoustics and musical history. Then, over the course of the next several days, we spent time with the boys from St. Patrick’s College, Strathfield, both practicing and performing, which was profound for all the students – American and Australian alike.
Our competitive venue was at the Australian National Band Championships in Sydney. Our two concert bands competed in their categories against Australian bands from all over the country. We were so proud of our students and their performances and so thankful for the reception given to us by the Australians.
We spent time marching and performing at the Sydney Royal Easter Show where, it seemed, the entire population of Sydney came out to experience a loud, percussive, American marching band. Our favorite part? When the large audience at the huge cricket stadium joined in with our rendition of “Waltzing Matilda”. Australians are truly the most warm and welcoming people.
We spent the last third of our trip in the town of Newcastle, which is about 100 miles north of Sydney. We had some personal history with that city: one of our band directors, as a high school marching band student, had visited Newcastle in a similar cultural exchange. The city was so taken with the idea of an American marching band that they created their own marching band, The Marching Koalas. The Marching Koalas have, in the last 25 years, visited and performed at venues and contests around the globe. They hosted our band for three days. We were invited into homestays, ate crocodile, learned how to bush dance and performed for each other and together. It was a remarkable time for every single person on this trip. We cannot thank The Marching Koalas enough for welcoming all of us.
This trip was a monumental feat consisting of moving 109 students, 10 chaperones, concert and marching equipment 8,000 miles. Our time in Australia was beyond busy, with 11 performances and/or practices in eight days along with all the cultural (loved the outback wildlife reserve) and sightseeing tours. But, the reflections about the trip from all our students and adults were that it was a once-in-a-lifetime trip and was deeply meaningful on a personal, professional, intellectual and social level.